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At the Tufts Humanist Chaplaincy, we hope to foster a comfortable environment for people to engage in honest discussions around the challenges in their lives, and to explore how people outside traditional religion approach questions that many faith traditions engage regularly. Our day to day lives, on campus and off, can be challenging just as they are exciting, but we don’t always have a structured hour in the week to sit down and reflect on the way we’ve grown, and the lessons we can learn from the experiences of others.

At small group reflections, the Humanist in Residence facilitates an open, respectful, and confidential conversation around a chosen theme that concerns and informs many of our choices and experiences in our life journey. The conversation is rooted in a text (or other piece of culture) written from a Humanist perspective that engages the theme, and from there will be open to the perspectives and experiences of everyone present in the group. Those present are encouraged to bring pieces of culture that inspire their own values on the theme, including and especially those from other faith traditions.

The upcoming small group reflection will explore memory–what do we rely on in our memories, what do we draw strength from, what do seek control over, and how do we maintain that control–led through a passage from Joan Didion. It will be on Monday, November 9th, at 9pm in the Interfaith Center downstairs meeting room. Small group reflections are open to all members of the Tufts community, irrespective of anyone’s belief background. Light refreshments will be served!


holding-joan-didionJoan Didion is an award winning American essayist, perhaps best known for her challenging collection Slouching Towards Bethlehem reporting on and critiquing the Haight-Ashbury countercultural communities of the 60s. She is a pioneer of modern literary and narrative journalism–styles which have come to characterize many of the most prominent contemporary American publications and radio programs like Salon, Rolling Stone, and This American Life. Her influence has earned her honorary doctorates from Harvard and Yale, and the National Book Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters.

Her acclaimed book The Year of Magical Thinking chronicled her experience amid the death of her husband and serious illness of their daughter. Self-identifying as an agnostic, Didion reflects on her own experience of hope–hope that the unavoidable, death or death of a loved one, might be avoided if we only hold a particular stance with enough passion. She too reflects on making meaning in one’s finite lifetime.

In our next small group reflection, we’ll let themes of hope and grief weave into our conversation as well, we’ll open the discussion through the theme of memory. How do we find strength in our memories, how do we let go of memories that aren’t inspiring us forward? Do we actively build stories through our memories or do we let them build themselves? This passage from Slouching Towards Bethlehem is a personal reflection of hers on locating her own story in memory, and we’ll use it as a jumping off point for our conversation:

I have said that the trip back is difficult, and it is–difficult in a way that magnifies the orginary ambiguities of sentimental journies. Going back to California is not like going back to Vermont, or Chicago; Vermont and Chicago are relative constants, against which one measure’s one’s change. All that is constant about California of my childhood is the rate at which it disappears…It is hard to find California now, unsettling to wonder how much of it is merely imagined or improvised; melancholy to realize how much of anyone’s memory is no true memory at all but only the traces of someone else’s memory, stories handed down on the family network. I have an incredibly vivid “memory,” for example, of how Prohibition affected the hop growers around Sacramento…Although I was not born until a year after Repeal, that scene is more “real” to me than many I have played myself.

Didion, Joan. Slouching Towards Bethlehem. We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Survive. Everyman’s Library, 2006. 134-135.